My sister brought back a picture of some graffiti in Saskatoon a few summers ago that I ran with, writing one of my first songs that has continued to grow with me in the years since, and which continues to accompany me in new musical places.
I’ve had the good pleasure the last few years to have been able to enrich my personal learning network, as well as add to the constellation of thoughtful individuals that interact with my classroom(s) through the DIY magic of distributed web radio. Even casual readers of this blog will recognize the religious fervour that has often attended to my posts about the magic of #ds106radio, an organic offshoot of the Digital Storytelling course DS106 run out of (originally) the University of Mary Washington, in Virginia, as well as (these days) a host of other institutionsaround the world. In addition to becoming at various times my own open-mic coffee shop, where I’ve written, rehearsed and workshopped almost every song I’ve ever written, DS106Radio has also played frequent host to many a TALONS lesson, field trip, celebration, and a regular spate of Gleneagle’s Music Department showcases.
In the last week, I have been talking to a few of the administrators in our district about the how and what of distributed web radio, and in an effort to collect some of the power and relevance to K12 learning such a setup could offer us, I wanted to share some of what I’ve been able to be a part of because of this wonderfully easy, open-source technology solution to building community and communion around shared sound.
But first, a little history.
The following audio documentary was recorded with a few of the people who had seen DS106Radio grow out of a conversation around a dinner table into a powerful node in each of our networks. Here you’ll hear GNA Garcia interviewing Grant Potter, Guilia Forsythe, Alan Levine and myself about how we’ve seen the radio evolve and effect our lives and professional practices. Alan points out near the end that without the inception of the radio, we wouldn’t even know each other, which, given the amount of time, face-to-face or otherwise, we’ve spent revelling in one another’s company over the past two years, is a humbling thought. (That’s Zack Dowell providing the acoustic musical bed; Jason Toal provided the actual bed.)
But without veering too wildly into my own personal affections for the station, I want to focus here on sharing the ways I’ve explored in bringing my various classroom spaces, and beyond, to the web, often using free software on my laptop, or a $6 app on my phone. It is my hope that with a few examples to get things rolling, we might see some momentum around sharing audio in Coquitlam classrooms.
Almost as soon as we figured out how to ‘go live’ from my laptop and iPhone, my music classroom became a regular performance space for my guitar students, and then a host of other interested individuals to share informal jams, songs and laughter with an audience that just as quickly fell into the habit of tuning into the sounds of the school’s music wing.
Since then we’ve broadcast almost every one of the concerts at Gleneagle live onto DS106radio, sharing the ephemeral sounds of the performing arts with an international audience who can recognize our lead trumpet players and vocalists by the tenor of their solos, and who know that in Coquitlam, there are some crazy-talented kids that love to share their art. How many schools or districts can claim the same notoriety? (If they can, I would bet they’re spending more on marketing than we are.)
Class Activity as Public Learning Project
Last spring, a guitar class I was teaching took on the grandiose endeavour to convert itself into a Thirty Person Rock Band, a process that in addition to being shared on Youtube and Instagram, was conducted almost entirely live on the #ds106radio air, where people were able to tune in and play along with our rehearsals, band meetings, and triumphant last day of school show in the Gleneagle foyer. Our listening audience served as mentors, cheerleaders, and a reflection of the raw energy the creation of live music can bring to a community, and shared in the celebrations at the end of the term.
It was a great pleasure last year to share in a day of #RadioforLearning with #ds106radio K12 sister-station 105theHive, where my guitar class joined in a day of cross-country broadcasting with classrooms in Ontario and northern Manitoba. As the Hive’s rolling live broadcast took reading exercises from rural Ontario north toward Hudson’s Bay, Gleneagle’s Music Department shared its guitar presentations with an audience that wound up reaching listeners in South America, as well as Hawaii.
Essay Feedback as Podcast
Back in 2011, I brought the audio elements of DS106 into the TALONS classroom as part of our This I Believe essay unit where, in addition to submitting individual essays as recorded spoken word pieces, the class collaborated to remix and synthesize the different threads into larger audio compositions.
In an attempt to fold my essay feedback into the process I had asked the class to engage in, I created my own synthesis of the collective learning into a twenty minute radio show of my own to serve as feedback and commentary on the larger lessons of writing and storytelling that I saw in the group’s essays.
Field Reports & Outdoor Education
Some of the most powerful learning opportunities we bring to our students happen outside of the classroom, on field trips or other opportunities for place-based learning that are effectively captured in photographs and videos, perhaps; but these events and experiential learning also opportunities for capturing vital audio artifacts that might otherwise disappear into the ether.
Remixing the Class Discussion
Just this past semester, one of the #Philosophy12 students recorded a few days’ worth of investigating Epistemology, and the notions of Opinions, Beliefs, and Truth, and posted the files for download on Soundcloud. As a possible extension of these open educational resources, I thought I would try my hand at remixing the contents using the GarageBand app on my iPad. The cognitive value in sifting through an hour of recorded audio to pull together a narrative, or logical argument is something that I found both incredibly challenging, and entirely relevant given the emerging digital landscape of the read-write-sing-remix web, where the original artifact of learning is further-evolved to include new reflective perspectives.
Everything above is just the beginning…
I’ve tried to pull together as many different examples as I could over the course of a few days, but there may be a few notable broadcasts or events that I’ve neglected to include here. GNA Garcia used to broadcast concerts and conversations from her job at a highschool in Philadelphia. And the Hive folks have been creating live and canned shows for almost a year now (!). Matt Henderson started a terrestrial radio station with his kids in Winnipeg, and I’m sure there are other folks out there podcasting, sharing Audioboos, and finding other ways to explore the power of audio in their classrooms.
But I hope what I’ve shared here can serve as a catalyst and motivation for folks in my own back yard who may want to jump into an experiment with a Coquitlam branch of web radio over the course of the next semester. I’m hoping that local English, Music, Journalism, and other teachers start getting their phones out, warming up their GarageBands and Audacities, and seeing where our own digital campfire might take us as a learning community.
What is the real meaning and appropriate function of the Internet itself?
Gawker introduced the video by saying, “The Entire Internet has been a prelude to This Mashup of LCD Soundsystem and Miles Davis,” answering the question and quoting its author who says it contains, “No editing or other tricks, just 2 youtube videos played at the same time.”
Many thanks to Greg for capturing Wednesday and Thursday’s class discussions on his phone and uploading them to Soundcloud, so that we can catch up with what was discussed in a few sprawling conversations that made use of Santa Clause, Tetris, triangles and paradigm shifts to grapple with the development of personal ideas surrounding human knowledge, truth, belief and opinion.
In addition to being able to stream the contents of the conversation, Greg has made the files available for download, so that participants are free to download and repurpose the materials into new philosophy resources.
I parsed the first ten minutes of Wednesday’s class into a few audio remixes:
As an introductory activity to our Canadian Geography unit in Social Studies 10, the TALONS are digging into our Flickr archives today and applying some new skills of photo-editing to add a sample of their own reflection to a picture they think defines an essential British Columbia.
For my image, I chose this moonrise shot from the first Adventure Trip I had the pleasure to teach, when we found ourselves camped in the forest above Long Beach, in Tofino, where John Vaillant‘s description of the Northwest Coast from the opening chapter of the Golden Spruce, and the interplay between forest and sea comes into clear focus.
Having turned the corner here in metro-Vancouver toward fall and winter, I thought I would post the video of a very warm afternoon (the last official day of summer 2012) and a writing prompt that travelled a long way to get there.
Special props are due to Liam, who rose to the occasion and supplied the harmonica solo.
I would love to see these words transformed, re-thought and remixed into some kind of art project. I know there are some amazing musicians, writers and artists amongst you; do these words inspire you to draw, sing, create? This post is like Caine’s Arcade, in that I hope it moves you in some way to create. Consider it another seed that I have planted. I will wait patiently and hope that perhaps a few trees may grow.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Hesse quote made a perfect union with some of the pictures I took while the TALONS were journaling on our three day jaunt through the British Columbian woods, where Jabiz’ own words had actually served as a meditating and writing prompt on Thursday afternoon. Before sending the group on a solo walk around the back half of Hicks Lake, I played the TALONS the first half of a song I wrote out of one of Jabiz’ poems and told them to “immerse oneself in the blossoming awareness of the moment,” and that we would meet up on the opposite shore where I would play them the second verse and we would settle ourselves to do a little writing (where I snapped the above pic).
That he would have a follow up quotation for us on Monday morning is unsurprising, of course, because this is the sort of thing I’ve come to expect from my online colleagues, these folks – some of whom, like Jabiz, I’ve never met face-to-face – who are here in our classroom from time to time whether on these blogs or in the local woods: teachers, students, learners, friends.
Imagine a life where possibilities are opening at a speed that veers unpredictably between exhilarating and terrifying. The familiar, precisely because it’s familiar and safe, still tugs at you, but even so, you want out because your old life constricts as much as it comforts. Besides, your social milieu, which often feels like an endless struggle to achieve, or resist being slotted into some arbitrary niche—pretty, ugly, smart, dumb, athlete, klutz—is changing fast. You feel driven—by inner need and outside pressure—to make choices. Meanwhile, the manipulative, often harsh, powers that be, who created the larger world they’re busy shoving you into, have clearly not done a bang-up job of it, either in their personal lives or as part of society. And they want you to get out there and ﬁx their mistakes—just at a moment when worry over the imminent demise of their entire socio-economic structure is never far from the surface. It can be cruel and scary out there. Dystopian, even.
Chances are, anyone not imagining this life, but actually living it, is a teenager.
In some ways, I guess it is natural that the TALONS class would incorporate into its evolving storytelling and myth-making the influences of dystopian literature, fan fiction, and the classic zombie film. In the background of the class’ study of novels, history, and current events, math and science, the approaching Adventure Trip (constituting the class’ Leadership 11 Final Exam), the class blog has become the setting for unfolding video, and literary riffs on the classroom setting, as well as TALONS characters enacting both a five part series of zombie films and an epic, multi-authored fan fiction bringing the Hunger Games to the afternoon corhort.
There is no avoiding the violent nature of the Hunger Games, and each post begins with a variation of the following caveat:
(Warning: The following post depicts scenes of violence, using fictionalized examples of real people. Please do not read if you might find any of this offensive / disturbing. This narrative is for educational purposes only. Any references and ideas taken from the Hunger Games trilogy are the strict property of the brilliant Suzanne Collins).
But what I find remarkable about the TALONS versions of each story – and perhaps what constitute each genre’s appeal with today’s young people – is an awareness and an articulation of the human qualities that perpetuate our survival in desperate times, whether in real life, a zombie movie, or young adult fan-fiction. Each are excellent examples of using an existing structure of genre or plot-line to tell a story that is uniquely personal.
Check them out (and don’t miss the informative ‘Legend‘ to help see into the intricacies of the class dynamic at work in the story):
The platforms stilled, each tribute squinting in the sudden light, trying to adjust to their surroundings. They were standing in the middle of a field of grass, an enormous ancient stone city before them, practically crumbling before their eyes. Behind them was a forest, thick with every kind of tree, green and lush with life. The tributes looked around, dazed by the beauty of their surroundings. For a moment, all thoughts of death and murder disappeared out of their heads, but seconds later, the gong sounded and each tribute shot off their platform, scattering in all directions.
Morning came and Bronwyn wasn’t prepared. She had hardly slept that night after yet another cannon had roared, causing her to wonder who had died this time. She exhaled softly and packed up quickly, sliding down the tree ready for day 2. The moment she hit the ground, she heard the sound of feet running. She ran and leapt behind a bush, peering through and seeing, to her surprise, Leanne. She was standing in the middle of a clearing, holding a badminton racquet. Bronwyn frowned. A badminton racquet? What kind of a cruel trick was that? But suddenly, the small hole Bronwyn had been staring through darkened as someone stood in front of it.
Chelsea climbed up the tree, searching for a place to stay. Sean climbed close behind, trying not to look down. He didn’t know why he had saved Chelsea, but he had. Shaking his head, Sean called up to Chelsea that he had found a branch. Swinging sideways, Sean landed on the branch and pressed himself against the trunk, closing his eyes and listening for any noises. Instead, the anthem played and Sean blinked and looked up at the darkened sky.
About half an hour later, Alisha was happily roasting several chunks of meat over a spit. She leaned forward and studied them carefully, inspecting them and making sure they were cooked thoroughly. Then, with quick and precise hands, she whipped out a handful of Japanese Yew berries and stuffed them into the meat.
Humming to herself, Zoe loaded up Jonny’s crossbow, and crouched down, lying on her belly and began to aim. Alisha had been right. Only one could win.
As this part of the ds106 class comes to a close (sort of) I have repeatedly pondered the role audio for me plays in my life and that we have done great things in this class expanding the community properties of sound and I am so thankful for that. Sound has so many wonderful uses, and I think in this class we have wandered into some fantastic places with it. I want to sit with all of you and make art.
Agreeing with Todd entirely, I synthesized some of my teacher feedback from the few-months old This I Believeessay project into a 20′ radio show that sewed different elements of the class’ recorded writings into my larger essay about what we learned we believed. Still a few steps away from offering a weekly radio show, or media share of the collective lessons learned in the Talons classroom, but one closer. Enjoy!